Sant Jordi

The Catalan Saint George - Sant Jordi

The Christian knight, protector of Barcelona

Barcelona, Spain
Kasper Christiansen
Text & photos: Kasper Christiansen
23. April, 2020 (revised version)

Sant Jordi, the Catalan equivalent of Saint George, is a popular figure in Catalonia. He is the Patron Saint of the region, and Catalonia even has a Saint George Day - El Día de Sant Jordi, on April 23rd. On this day, the tradition says that the girl have to give a book to the boys and the boys has to give a rose to the girls.

The rose motif stems from the myth, since after Saint George killed the dragon, a rose grew from where the dragon's blood had spilled. The tradition of the book comes from the International Day of the Book declared by UNESCO since both Shakespeare and Cervantes died on April 23rd in 1616.

Shakespeare and Cervantes, however, did not die on the same day since Spain, (where Cervantes died), had adapted the Gregorian Calendar in 1582 together with other Catholic countries like Poland, Italy and France, but Protestant England (where Shakespeare died) still used the Julius Caesar - so Shakespeare actually died 10 days before Cervantes.

Romanesque art saint mary
The famous building by Antoni Gaudí, Casa Batlló, tells the story about Sant Jordi and the Dragon. The roof of the building is the dragons back - and the balconies are the skulls and bones of the people eaten by the dragon!

Catalonia and Saint George

The Catalan version Sant Jordi

The myth of Saint George can be found all over Europe and he is the patron Saint of no less than 15 European countries (among them England, Georgia and Greece), but the Catalans have their own version of the legend.

Antoni Sadurní sant jordi
Antoni Sadurní made this beautiful embroidery in silk, silver and gold of Sant Jordi and the Dragon. You can see the work of art in the Generalitat de Catalunya

If you visit the Barrio Gòtico of Barcelona especially one figure is present everywhere: Sant Jordi. The knight is of course Saint George - in the Catalan version his name is Sant Jordi. You see him on buildings, squares, in paintings, fountains, etc. The knight with his sword is fighting the dragon and saving the princess.

According to myth, a dragon terrified the small village Montblanc in Catalonia south-west of Barcelona. The dragon ate all the animals of Montblanc and when there were no animals left, if started devouring people in the village. The village chose each year a person to satisfy the hunger of the evil dragon. When the name of the young princess came up, Saint George came riding just in time to kill the dragon with his sword.

Sant Jordi, the Generalitat
Sant Jordi is here seen on the facade of the Generalitat. The Sculpture was made by Andreu Aleu in 1872

Maybe the reason why the Catalans have been drawn by the story of Saint George is is that has been seen as an allegory Catalonia's history: the evil dragon being a symbol of Madrid/the Central Power and the local knight the saviour of the local village. Both after the War of Spanish Succession and the Spanish Civil War, Barcelona was repressed, first when Filip V conquered Barcelona in 1714 and when Franco's troops gained control of Spain in 1939.

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